Another month went by before I had time to continue my exploration of the bins. It was actually Thanksgiving night, still thoroughly stuffed from our Thanksgiving lunch, while watching college football that I returned to my effort.
I had come to the realization over the past month that each time I thought about these sermons, the next step of my discovery process was really going to be predicated on my getting them more organized. While each bin represented one drawer from my dad’s file cabinet, the folders inside the bins were in random order as we had pulled them from the drawer. Since I didn’t have an empty file cabinet of my own to put them in, I raided my wife’s stash of Bankers Boxes.
As I pulled handfuls of folders from the first bin, they were in somewhat numerical order. But then I would run across a number series well before or after the stack I had just pulled. Soon I had several stacks of sequences and I began to put them in the box in order, starting with number 1. It was a little like assembling a puzzle.
I did have to pause for a moment when I found folder #1 to look through its contents. This was at least the first documented sermon my dad ever wrote. It was entitled; “Jesus, The Door” and my dad first preached it in August 1946 in Duncan, Oklahoma. This would have been while my dad was still in Seminary and thus even predated the beginning of his professional ministry. It gave me chills to hold this folder recognizing it was one my dad had written on at the young age of 19 over 70 years ago.
Then returning to the process of getting them organized, I ran across #191 that had been given more times than the others I had seen. When I had randomly pulled folders from the bin, I hadn’t found a sermon that had been given as many as 10 times.
I thought this was a lot until I came across #15 and saw that the dates literally ran the length of the folder. Curious, I checked my dad’s book of 32 sermons that he had typed up and sure enough it was in there, one of the ones he considered his best. In fact, it was the sermon that had the footnote at the end that said this was the sermon he gave the day he met his future wife. It sent chills through me as I realized he had written on this folder the day he met my mom, April 25, 1948, as duly noted on the folder.
In no time I had filled the first box with sermons #1 through #190 and started on the next.
As I pulled more folders from the bin and ordered them in increasing numerical number, I began to notice that my dad had religiously (pun intended) used three-tab folders for all those years. He even strictly used them in cascading fashion (first left 1/3, then middle 1/3, finally right 1/3) so as I pulled a handful from the bin, it was easy to see if I had them in the right order, scanning across the tabs.
Occasionally, I would run across a missing number only to be found later as I continued to empty the bins. But a few folders I never did find. It got me to thinking what might have happened to those. Maybe Dad had retrieved them to prepare for a future church service, but one that he never got to give as he died so suddenly. I can only wonder if these will ever be found.
Once I had pulled all the sermon folders from the bins and organized them in increasing numerical order, I had filled five Bankers Boxes.
It was a pleasure to see them all organized again.
But as I pulled the last few sermons from the third bin, I found there were still some other folders left in the bin, each labeled with a single alphabetical letter.
I opened a few of these and found that they were individual typed pages with quotes from books Dad had read that he thought could be included in future sermons. And in the top right corner in Dad’s organized fashion, there were hand notations as to when and which sermon he had incorporated the idea. I recalled from reading the 32 sermons last year that Dad would often quote verbatim a passage from some learned source in his sermons. Now I understood how he was able to easily access those.
For instance, if he were going to write a sermon on “death”, he would pull out his “D” folder to find what additional sources he could incorporate into his sermon. It was with a little sense of Sherlock Holmes that I had deduced part of my dad’s system.
Returning to the sermons, I discovered that rather than the 706 that I had expected to find based on the typed list, there were actually 710 sermons. Puzzled, I pulled out #706 and noted the date—February 23, 1986. The date on #707 was March 28, 1991, over five years later. Thinking about this time gap, I then remembered that Dad had retired in December 1989. So the last time he updated his list of sermons was sometime after he wrote #706 and prior to his retirement. I guess by then, Dad figured he had enough previously written sermons that he could draw from for the remaining few years of his active service. However, knowing how hard my dad had worked his entire life, I would never think that he just “coasted” for his last few years of ministry before retiring.
Having completed my organization task, I felt I was in a much better position for reading and exploring them. As I thought about these typed sermons, I realized they comprised a significant part of my dad’s professional career. Although his ministries to church members no doubt took up much of his professional time, these sermons represented his creativity, the times when he was alone in thought, thinking of ideas to convey.
To me, these written sermons represented another aspect of his life I didn’t know. And with these sermons now more organized, I felt I was ready to gain another glimpse into my dad’s life as I had briefly explored before to learn more about the man I most admire, the man I didn’t get to know well enough before he was gone.